DWP in denial over benefit deaths - despite overwhelming evidence of systemic failures (2023)

DWP in denial over benefit deaths - despite overwhelming evidence of systemic failures (1)

DWP in denial over benefit deaths - despite overwhelming evidence of systemic failures (2)

Steve Topple


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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is still failing to deal with flaws in its systems that are leading to claimant deaths. That’s the verdict of the department’s own civil servants – based on previously secret reports that an independent media outlet forced the DWP to release. This won’t be news to many claimants. However, it does show that both DWP benefits and how the department deals with claimants are flawed – fatally, at times.

DWP: secret benefits deaths reviews

When a claimant dies by suicide, or a vulnerable claimant complains, the DWP is supposed to perform an Internal Process Review (IPR). It started doing these in 2012, but does not publish the reviews. However, thanks to John Pring at independent media outlet Disability News Service (DNS), the DWP has had to publish some of them – albeit only after Pring forced them to. As he wrote, some of the reports showed that:

a series of suicides between 2014 and 2019 were linked to the failure of DWP staff to follow basic rules that had been introduced in 2009.

Sadly, this negligence from the DWP and its staff is not new. As the Canary previously wrote, Jodey Whiting took her own life after the DWP stopped her benefits. Her mother Joy Dove is currently back in court, fighting for a new inquest into her daughter’s death. However, at a previous court case the DWP denied that the problems which led to claimant deaths were systemic. At the time, figures showed this was clearly untrue. Now, the reviews the DWP has released to Pring show even more clearly that the department does have systemic – and in some cases life-threatening – issues.

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(Video) The truth about welfare cuts and benefit sanction suicides

Failure after failure

As DNS reported, the DWP has given Pring a list of recommendations from IPRs that the department completed between 1 September 2020 and 14 November 2022. The DWP performed these reviews after the deaths of 46 claimants. These recommendations showed numerous failures in how the DWP and its staff deal with claimants. Pring highlighted the following:

  • Two recommendations that DWP failures to correct “factual inaccuracies” were linked to claimants’ deaths.
  • A suggestion that there were “still flaws in the system for visiting claimants in their own homes” – problems which have led to claimant deaths, like that of Errol Graham in 2018.
  • Problems with “the correct gathering of information prior to claim closure” linked to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
  • Around 20 cases involving Universal Credit – many involving staff not dealing with claimant messages in their journals properly.

However, as Pring noted, one case in particular stood out.

No compassion

DNS wrote that:

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One of the most concerning recommendations – made in an IPR examined in January 2022 – is a call for DWP’s PIP department to assure the team overseeing IPRs that “they will explore opportunities for improving compassionate call handling techniques for telephony agents”.

This is crucial – because we already know that a lack of compassion from DWP staff was noted during the inquest in the death of claimant Phillipa Day. DNS wrote that:

a DWP “telephony agent”had listened to Philippa sobbing as she described how she was “literally starving and cold”, “genuinely can’t survive like this for much longer”, was “in so much debt”, “literally cannot leave the house”, and needed “a reason to live”.

But the agent offered no reassurance or acknowledgement of Philippa’s distress, and made no attempt – during the call in the summer of 2019 – to “escalate” any concerns to senior colleagues.

Phillipa’s case and the information contained in the IPRs clearly point to systemic problems. Yet the DWP is still denying there’s an issue.

DWP: doing what it’s supposed to

As the department told DNSafter refusing to answer Pring’s questions around systemic problems and the IPRs:

We support millions of people every year and our priority is they get the benefits they are entitled to as soon as possible and they receive a supportive and compassionate service.

In the minority of instances where this does not happen, we have established procedures to investigate and learn lessons through, for instance, the serious case panel and internal process reviews.

(Video) The full #WCAdebate: Ten years of the work capability assessment

The problem is that the DWP is not learning lessons because it is simply not supposed to.

Benefits in the UK are not administered as compassionate ‘social security’ – something the state provides for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to work. Successive governments have made benefits highly stigmatised – something only ‘scroungers’ get, and at a rate of pay sometimes barely enough to keep people alive. They have intentionally decimated the welfare state, in a bid to save as much money as possible while forcing as many people into work as they can. The end result has been at least 35,000 people dying on the DWP’s watch – people like Jodey. There is nothing compassionate about that – so why would the department and its staff behave any differently? Governments and capitalism want the DWP to be repressive, punitive and malicious – even if this ends up in claimant’s dying. Compassion doesn’t enter into it.

Featured image via the Guardian – YouTube and UK Government/Wikimedia

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  • Show Comments
    1. Unfortunately, it’s now totally built in, to the DWP, to be as callous as possible towards the disabled, and those who are chronically ill, as well as the vulnerable – plus any other Benefit Claimants.

      They’ve had far too many years of both governments, AND their immediate bosses, telling them that we are all scum, or liers, or cheats, or whatever vocabulary tandhey come up with, to get that message across, so this attitude, and the horrendous ideologies behind them, become inbuilt within their collective psyches.

      Like anything that’s repeated continuously, this attitude IS now inbuilt so that, even new employees to the DWP will either be inundated with the same gaslighting that everyone else there has absorbed, or will leave, if they’ve an ounce of humanity left in them – and so the DWP becomes full of people all thinking same thoughts about us.

      So, while those higher up in the DWP invent ever more feeble excuses, as to why none of the deaths are THEIR fault, the abuse will keep on happening, because why SHOULD the Public have to pay for ‘Empty Eaters’?

      (Video) WCCEH Seminar: Deaths by Welfare

      Unfortunately, it’s we disabled, and the most vulnerable, who’ll continue to pay the price of this constant whitewashing of DWP behaviour, especially while they get away with either not even writing up every detail as to how things went wrong, but also getting away with totally redacting every piece of material they ARE forced to deliver into outsider hands.

      Considering that there doesn’t appear to be even ONE Political Party, who truly has, or ever will, take up our battle against this constant descrimination, then I hold no hope of it’s changing any time in the near future!

      As far as we Disabled are concerned, we’re on our own, as the government, via a Right Wing Media, have thoroughly spread these same callous, dangerous, lies about us to the general public and, as we are having to deal with them, in one form or another, every single day – including among those we thought we’d be safe with – then we’ll get no respite from these evil messages, that we’re not worth the time, energy, or the consumables needed, to keep us alive – and it’s there, that we’ll see the start of the pogroms, that are already taking a hold of our so-called Democratic society! 😡

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    2. First Love Foundation are a charity who have helped a family member get PIP. His case has been through rejection and tribunal for nearly two years now but they are now having to pay and back date it all. If anyone reads this and needs help I would suggest contacting this charity, they will help.

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